Another year has passed, and here I am, yet a year further from 1965. The further away I am from 1998 and all those years of losses. The further from the reason I am here, but never further away from the truth.
I wish my grandmother hadn’t passed away in 2009. I would ask her again, and again, to explain her reason to stay. You could’ve left the country, I said – I would have. No, she said, in her own words, limited by pain: if I had left, they would’ve thought they were right, that we did wrong. She said no more, no less, and knowing her, she was right. She was always right.
She was right to send all her younger children away from her in chaos while she rebuilt everything. She was right to go back, no matter how mortifying, to the exact same spot her husband was taken away from her, exactly the same spot their house was burned to death, exactly the same spot she gave life to all her children except for her eldest, my father. The same spot she said, proudly, in her wordless persistence: I am here, and we are still alive. Kill me if you can.
Kill me, if you can, the same way you killed my husband. Kill me, if you can, the same way you killed my husband, in any way you told me you had killed my husband. Some said, with satisfaction, that he was shot under a tree, squealing like a pig. Some said, with admiration, that he was detained and tortured before he was eventually killed, and oh how good a man he was. And she kept this, the good man that he was, the grandfather I have never met, very close to her guts.
I wish my grandfather hadn’t been disappeared in 1965. I would’ve asked him, in 1998, whether 1965 was less scarring. I would’ve asked him, in 1998, why his wife called me then out of the blue, blurting out such toneless, wordless fear. I would’ve asked him why I had to grow up keeping his disappearance a secret. I would’ve asked him whether he had once agreed with Marx or Mao. I would’ve asked him why he stayed. You could’ve left the country, I would’ve said, knowing he wouldn’t have, the nationalist that he was. I would’ve asked him why we were so broken. I would’ve asked him why we kept silent. I would’ve asked him why we’re different.
But another year has passed, again, and here I am, still asking, yet another year further from the day he was disappeared. I keep going back, exactly because it is mortifying, to these same places of losses, to the same spot where my grandmother had said, with pride: I am here, and we are still alive. Kill us if you can.
And it’s not only for her do I keep him, the good man that he was, the grandfather I have never met, very close to my guts.